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Indonesian government blamed for stoking radicalism, religious violence

James Balowski - April 2011

[An abridged version of this article appeared in the April 2011 issue of Direct Action newspaper <http://directaction.org.au/issue31/indonesian_government_blamed_for_religious_violence>.]

Jakarta – The gruesome murder of three members of the Ahmadiyah religious sect by an Islamist lynch mob in February left Indonesia's much touted image of pluralism and religious tolerance in tatters. Emboldened by the authorities' failure to respond to repeated attacks on religious minorities and the government's support for anti-Ahmadiyah decrees, hard-line Islamic groups have been given a clear message that the Ahmadis are fair game.

On February 6, a mob of 1,500 people attacked 21 Ahmadiyah members in Cikeusik, a village in the Banten province in Java, killing three and seriously wounding five others. Around 30 police officers were present but did little to stop the attack. An amateur video posted on YouTube shows the gruesome beatings of the men with wooden sticks, hoes, and machetes. Later, two men are seen stripped from the waist down, lying lifeless and muddied on the ground, as the mobs launches a savage volley of blows using sticks and bamboo poles accompanied by shouts of "God is great".

Public outcry

The public outcry was immediate, and loud, with condemnation coming from ordinary Indonesians, moderate Muslim leaders, NGOs and rights activists. Soul-searching editorials lamented how the country's once cherished image of pluralism and tolerance could have deteriorated to such an abysmal state.

Human rights NGO Imparsial condemned the government's failure to protect Ahmadiyah followers. "Once again, the police, as a state apparatus, failed to guarantee religious freedom by protecting the Ahmadis from violence. In fact, the police seemed to turn a blind eye instead of strictly enforcing the law by arresting the attackers", the groups said in a statement.

The Wahid Institute blamed the violence on Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. "Violence against Ahmadis is an almost daily occurrence, yet the President does nothing to address this."

The Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy urged national police chief General Timur Pradopo to summon the Pandeglang police chief over the incident and for Yudhoyono to sack the religious affairs minister for repeatedly failing to react to or even acknowledge acts of religious violence.

The February 8 Jakarta Post editorialised: "The murder of three Ahmadiyah followers in Banten on Sunday is a concrete example of state-sponsored terrorism against the country's own citizens. With the full – very sorry to say – backing of the state, bloody oppression and even the butchering of Indonesians will continue to haunt us."

International condemnation

New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Indonesian authorities of failing to address the persecution of the Ahmadiyah, saying the government's lack of action reflected a political, legal and social framework that propagated a culture of religious discrimination. "Since August, Religious Affairs Minister Ali Suryadharma has repeatedly called for the Ahmadiyah faith to be banned in Indonesia. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has failed to repudiate those statements", the group said.

Rights group Amnesty International said in a statement that religious freedom in Indonesia in tatters and the "brutal attack" reflected the government's "continued failure" to protect "religious minorities from harassment and attacks and to hold the perpetrators accountable". Amnesty added that Indonesia should repeal all laws and regulations restricting religious freedom.

Condemnations also come from the US government and the European Union. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom renewed its call on Indonesia to review the blasphemy law saying this is "more deadly evidence that blasphemy laws are the cause of sectarian violence, not the solution".

Legitimising discrimination

Ahmadiyah was founded in India in 1889 and holds that the group's founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was the last prophet, which contradicts a tenet of Islam that reserves that position for the Prophet Muhammad. The sect is banned in Pakistan, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia and has come under attack in Bangladesh. Formally recognised in 1953, it has been in Indonesia since 1926 and has around 300,000 followers here.

In 2005 Indonesia's ultra-conservative top religious body the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) issued an edict against Ahmadiyah calling its teachings blasphemous. That year newly elected President Yudhoyono unofficially endorsed the body saying his administration would "embrace the views, recommendations and edicts of the MUI". In June 2008 the government enacted a joint ministerial decree requiring Ahmadiyah to "stop spreading interpretations and activities that deviate from the principal teachings of Islam". Yudhoyono’s governing coalition includes all of the conservative religious parties in the parliament.

Discrimination is also legitimised by the 1965 Blasphemy law that only recognises six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Confucianism. Other religions – Indonesia has around 250 different faith groups – are officially banned. In April last year the Constitutional Court rejected a judicial review against the law arguing that it "is still needed to maintain public order among religious groups". The official state ideology of Pancasila includes the principle of a “belief in one god”, which both excludes atheism as well as polytheism.

A 2006 ministerial decree also restricts religious freedom by setting stringent requirements for the establishment of places of worship. Muslim groups frequently use this to justify vandalism and forced closure of churches.

Scores of sharia-based bylaws have also been enacted by regional administrations. The National Commission for Violence Against Women says there were 154 discriminatory bylaws against women enacted in 2009 with an additional 35 issued by September 2010. Last year the Constitutional Court rejected a judicial review against the controversial 2008 pornography law which discriminates against and criminalises women.

Justified on the grounds of "maintaining religious harmony", in practices these laws discriminate against religious minorities and legitimise conservative mainstream Islamic beliefs. They are in direct violation of Indonesia's own constitution and obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which it ratified in 2006.

Increasing attacks

In recent years, persecution and violence have marked the lives of Ahmadis in Indonesia. The number of incidents rose dramatically soon after the 2005 edict with Islamist groups attacking the group's headquarters near Bogor, West Java. Assaults were also reported in East Lombok, Manis Lor, Tasikmalaya, Parung, Garut, Ciaruteun and Sadasari, and continued through 2006 and 2007.

Things deteriorated further after the 2008 ministerial decree with Islamist militia groups attacking an interfaith gathering in Jakarta, beating activists and threatening to attack prominent figures that have publicly campaigned for pluralism and religious tolerance.

In 2008 and 2009, there were attacks against the Ahmadiyah in Ternate, Lombok, West Java, West Sumatra, Southeast Sulawesi, North Sulawesi and Kalimantan. More incidents followed in 2010. Less than two weeks before the Cikeusik attack, police "evacuated" members of an Ahmadiyah congregation from their mosque in Makassar following threats by the hard-line Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) who later vandalised the property.

In almost all these incidents, police have been present and have sometimes tried to negotiate or safely remove the Ahmadis before violence started, but have failed to stop attacks or hold those responsible accountable.

Mob justice

In the few cases where perpetrators have been brought to trial, courts have handed down ridiculously light sentences, often less than demanded by the prosecution. There has also been a rise in incidents where angry mobs have intimidated judges and prosecutors during court hearings. On February 10 a riot erupted following a blasphemy trial in Central Java after a mob was dissatisfied with the sentence handed down. Several days earlier a clash broke out between supporters of pop star Nazriel "Ariel" Irham's and Islamic protesters who wanted him to be harshly punished after being found guilty of violating the pornography law. The Supreme Court says that "these groups are being used by certain actors to direct trials for their benefits".

According to the Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace attacks have steadily increased since the 2005 fatwa rising from three in 2006 to 15 in 2008 and 33 in 2009. In 2010 there were 64 incidents, ranging from physical abuse to preventing groups from performing prayers and burning houses of worship.

Two studies on religious life at the end of 2010 showed a significant rise in religiously motivated attacks and discrimination against minority religious groups. A survey by the Moderate Muslim Society recorded 81 cases in 2010, up 30 percent from 2009. A report by the Wahid Institute was even more damning, with a total of 193 instances of religious discrimination and 133 cases of nonviolent religious intolerance recorded, up approximately 50 percent from the year before. According to the Indonesian Communion of Churches at least 11 churches and Christian institutions in Greater Jakarta were either destroyed or sealed in 2010.

In one of the most serious cases, in September two leaders of the Batak Christian Congregation (HKBP) in Bekasi were stabbed and assaulted after the FPI pressured local authorities seal off a church. Thirteen defendants including the head of the FPI's Bekasi chapter were later sentenced to a few months jail for what the judges called "unpleasant conduct".

Spreading hatred

While local people often become embroiled into these attacks, rights activists say that speeches by religious leaders spreading messages of hatred play a key role. Activists say that both the Cikeusik and an attack on two churches and a Christian school in Central Java were motivated by anger whipped up clerics.

In February 2008, a shocking video circulated on the Internet showing Sobri Lubis, a cleric from the FPI, preaching to hundreds of people and calling on his audience to kill Ahmadis. "Kill them, don't worry. [FPI leader] Rizieq [Shihab] and I will take responsibility", he said. In 2008 Shihab was sentenced to 18 months for inciting violence at the Jakarta interfaith rally but Sobri has never been prosecuted.

"When Rizieq was in prison, the acts of violence by the FPI dropped significantly. Instead of taking similar measures against other hate-speech preachers, the government issued a joint ministerial decree that has clearly led to a rise of religious intolerance", the Wahid Institute said.


Outside provocateurs have also played a role in attacks on Christian congregations. Claiming to represent local Muslim residents, in 2009 hard-line Islamic groups began calling for the closure of a HKBP church in Bekasi, claiming that it did not have a permit. In August 2010 the congregation came under repeated attacks by the Islamic Community Forum (FUI) culminating in the assault of two HKBP officials. Many local residents however said they did not object to the HKBP's religious activities. "For dozens of years we have never had any problems with the congregation", said Ery, a Muslim who has lived in the area for about 20 years. She said the problem only started in 2009 when dozens of men in traditional Muslim attire began protesting near the church. "They were clad in long, white robes. Some wore turbans. I don't know where they came from. They just showed up out of the blue", she told the Jakarta Post.

According to a 2010 report by Setara, local governments are the principal violators, with sealing of churches and the refusal to grant building permits topping the list of violations followed by the closure and burning of churches and the obstruction of services. Political motives, economic interests involving illegal extortion and ideological clashes with "intolerant groups" underpinned most cases. "The local administration sees these groups as assets for local elections", Setara deputy chairperson Bonar Tigor Naipospos told the Post.

In one case involving the Yasmin Indonesian Christian Church in Bogor, the city administration even defied a Supreme Court verdict on a church building permit ruling that the church be reopened. The city refused to comply claiming the church falsified the permit.

And it is not just religious minorities being targeted. On January 13 police in the East Java capital of Surabaya broke up a meeting on tolerance hosted by Setara after members of the Force of the Defenders of Islam tried to disband the gathering. Four days later a transsexual beauty pageant in Jambi province was broken up by members of the Muslim Students Association.

Setara also said police scrapped an event scheduled for January 21 because of pressure from the FPI. The event, "Indonesia and the World in 1965", was to have addressed the alleged coup attempt of 1965 – which the government officially blames on now-banned Indonesian Communist Party. The FPI has broken up several similar meetings claiming they were attempts at reviving the communist movement.

Police complicity

The national police -– which claimed on March 6 that Cikeusik attack only erupted because the Ahmadis wanted it to happen -– has long been criticised for siding with hard-liners and allowing them to rampage with impunity. Despite having video evidence showing who led, directed and perpetrated the attack, no one has been officially indicted yet and police have still failed to identify the group behind the incident.

Rights activists point out that last year the national police issued a controversial regulation implementing a shoot-on-sight policy during ethnic, religious or racial-based conflicts, but it was not put into use during the Cikeusik or other religious attacks. This is in stark contrast to a string of cases when police have used live ammunition against unarmed farmers defending their land against large palm oil companies or land developers. The Indonesian Forum for the Environment (Walhi) says it has recorded 317 such cases since 2005 resulting in 86 civilian victims. "The police always work hard in the interest of rich investors but not for the common people", Erwin Usman from Walhi told the Jakarta Globe.

Most recently the regulation was put into use on January 15 when members of the notorious Mobile Brigade (Brimob) – which has been blamed for much of the violence in West Papua – shot six unarmed farmers in Jambi province, who they claimed, were trespassing on a privately owned palm oil plantation.

Blaming the victim

President Yudhoyono condemned the Cikeusik attack as "intolerable" and vowed a full investigation and on February 11 Pradopo removed the Banten and Pandeglang police chiefs. Yudhoyono also ordered that groups advocating violence should be shut down. It was widely assumed that Yudhoyono was referring to the FPI and FUI, both of which have denied responsibility for the Cikeusik attack.

Instead, on February 17 Home Affairs Minister Gamawan Fauzi met leaders of the FPI and FUI to hear their suggestions on what to do about Ahmadiyah. Fauzi described the meeting as "warm and friendly" saying he was committed to maintaining communication to find the best solution for the country. In an interview with FPI chairperson Habib Rizieq Syihab posted on the group's website the following day, Syihab reportedly stated: "... if today, just three infidel Ahmadis were murdered, possibly tomorrow or the next day there will be thousands of Ahmadi infidels who will be slaughtered by Muslims".

Despite the mounting evidence that instead of maintaining religious harmony the 2005 edict and 2008 decree is being used to justify violence, the government has steadfastly defended the laws. Lawmakers from Yudhoyono's ruling coalition party have called for Ahmadiyah to repent, recognise their sins and return to mainstream Islam. Hazrul Azwar, a lawmaker from the Islamic-based United Development Party (PPP), called for stronger action saying that if Ahmadiyah did not repent it should "leave Islam and declare a new religion".

Suryadharma Ali – who is also the chairperson of the PPP and has repeatedly called for the sect to be banned outright – denied that the 2008 decree was to blame saying it was aimed at "protecting" Ahmadiyah. He urged Indonesia to follow the "Pakistan road" and ban all Ahmadiyah activities.

Emboldened by the government's failure to defend the Ahmadiyah, on February 18 around 500 people held an anti-Ahmadiyah rally led by the FPI in Jakarta demanding that the government disband the sect or they will attempt to oust the president. "Ahmadiyah teachings say that non-Ahmadis must be killed, so they must be eliminated first", an FPI speaker told the crowd.


Claiming that it would prevent further violence, a number of regional administrations moved to enact bylaws prohibiting Ahmadis from practicing their faith. Justified on the basis of the 2008 decree, legal experts assert that local governments do not have the authority to rule on religious matters.

On February 28 the East Java provincial government officially banned activities by the Ahmadiyah community, outlawing the display of their mosque and school signs and the use of "electronic media" to extend their teachings. On March 3 West Java also banned Ahmadiyah activities. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, in February and March eight other provincial and regency administrations enacted bans including South Sulawesi, Bogor, Banten, Banjarmasin city, Palu city, Samarinda city, Pandeglang and South Sumatra.

But if the Pakistan experience is any guide, this will only worsen matters. HRW notes that following Pakistan's criminalisation of Ahmadiyah's activities in 1984, the persecution of Ahmadiyah increased significantly and broadened to murder, vandalism of mosques, preventing Ahmadis from voting, arson attacks and the desecration of graves.

Human rights activists responded by urging Yudhoyono to sack Ali and lift the bans. "President Yudhoyono should signal that such discrimination has no place in a society that promotes religious tolerance and remove Suryadharma Ali from his post", HRW said in a statement. On March 17 Yudhoyono also has received a letter from 27 US lawmakers urging him to immediately revoke recent provincial and 2008 national decrees and repeal the blasphemy law.

The calls have gone unheeded with demands to ban Ahmadiyah spreading to other parts of the country.

Operation 'prayer mat'

West Java went further, coordinating with the local military command to urge mainstream Muslims to occupy Ahmadiyah mosques and lead Friday prayer sermons in hope of getting Ahmadis to "convert to Islam". Police and military officers also visited Ahmadi homes across West Java coercing members through bribery and intimidation to sign sworn statements renouncing their faith. Imparsial said it recorded 56 such cases in West Java. Soldiers have entered mosques, gathered sect followers and "forced them to repent and convert to Islam" the group said.

Initially the Indonesian military (TNI) denied the allegations following a call by the West Java regional military commander for Muslims to conduct an "an attack of prayer rugs", occupying Ahmadi mosques and "filling them with the correct teachings of Islam". This was contradicted by the government, which admitted soldiers had been entering Ahmadi mosques, but denied there had been any forced conversions. "As long as their intention is positive – that is to ensure Ahmadiyah followers do not become the target of violence – then that's not a human rights violation", Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar told reporters. While insisting that the military had never ordered soldiers to carry out the so-called "Prayer Mat Operation", an army spokesperson conceded that the West Java administration had asked for assistance from the TNI to "help them more effectively phase out the activities of Ahmadiyah" and prevent further violence.

Buoyed by the backing of authorities, orthodox clerics in East Java are now ratcheting up their rhetoric against Shiite Muslims, claiming they are "more dangerous than infidels" and whose "ideals are so deviant that their teachings need to be exterminated". Shiites, who like the Ahmadi are a minority in Indonesia, are already feeling the heat. Tensions erupted in February when a mob hurled rocks at the Alma'hadul Islam boarding school in Pasuruan, East Java, seriously injuring four Shiites. Ignoring eyewitness reports that the attackers were Sunnis, officials dismissed the incident as a "student brawl".

Political backing

While at first glance this paints a frightening portrait of religious life in Indonesia, the majority of Indonesians are accepting of other faiths and most parts of the country are in a state of peace. Critics say President Yudhoyono's ruling coalition which relies on the support of Islamic parties is squarely to blame for the violence.

The PPP, which is a leftover from the former Suharto regime and has its traditional base of support among Muslims voters, has seen a steep decline in its vote share in the last two elections. Suryadharma Ali was recently accused by political opponents of using the Ministry of Religion, which for years has been dogged by allegations of corruption involving its control of the annual Hajj pilgrimage, to bolster the PPP's flagging electoral among conservative clerics.

The conservative Islamic-based Justice and Prosperity Party (PKS), which was formed in 1998 to woo devout Muslims, has in recent years downplayed its religious credentials in the face of declining electoral support for Islamic parties. While the party campaigns primarily on issues such as anti-corruption and clean governance, like the PPP its agenda remains that of turning Indonesia into an Islamic state. The PKS was a staunch supporter of the 2008 anti-pornography law and even pushed for a clause in an early draft to imprison people for up to 10 years for kissing in public. PKS chairperson and Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring has been waging a moral crusade against pornography and promiscuity – which he asserts is linked to HIV/AIDS – and claims immorality in the country is to blame for recent natural disasters.

The backing of these parties for groups like the FPI was evident in February when they threw their support behind the FPI following calls to disband the organisation. Senior PPP official Hazrul Azwar said the FPI was a part of the nation that needed to be built and nurtured. While urging the FPI not to break the law, he said it would be better for the government to build a partnership with the FPI. "This is an important thing because they must help the government to uphold stability", Azwar said.

Moral panic

The government is also fostering a conservative and moralistic atmosphere that feeds into the agenda of extremist groups.

All of the political parties in Yudhoyono's ruling coalition and the parliament are pro-business and support neoliberal polices at the expense of the ordinary people. Yudhoyono, who when first elected five years ago set out an ambitious agenda to eradicate corruption, reform the economy and combat terrorism, has done little other than draft policy blueprints and fend off criticism over a series of embarrassing scandals. The political parties and lawmakers too have all found themselves embroiled in a string of corruption scandals. The general public, who sees them as absorbed in constant petty politicking and enriching themselves at the country's expense, hold them in utter contempt.

Public dissatisfaction with the Yudhoyono administration is reaching epidemic proportions with polls consistently showing around 60-70 percent of respondents having no confidence in the government to resolve key economic and political issues. Religious violence and poor law enforcement along with corruption, unemployment, healthcare, education and the rising commodity prices regularly top the list of public concerns. According to an Indo Barometer poll Yudhoyono's personal approval rating in August dropped almost 40 percentage points from 90 to 51 percent since August 2009. An Indonesian Survey Institute poll showed an almost 20 percent decline, from 85 to 66.

Unwilling or unable to address the real issues that threaten the entrenched interests of the political elite themselves, the government has increasingly turned towards moral campaigns such as Sembiring's crusade against pornography, which prominent Indonesian feminist and author Julia Suryakusuma describes as "moral panic" and a "policy of distraction" at a time when there is seething public anger about entrenched corruption, which the public see as the real moral threat facing the country.

This has translated in to steady decline in electoral support and participation with analyst predicting that voter abstention could reach 50 percent in the 2014 elections. Voter abstention rates of around 40 percent are already evident in recent regional elections where intimidation, vote buying and ballot rigging is the norm. Many electoral candidates are trying to counter this by seeking electoral support from hard-line Islamic groups. Political parties across the spectrum have pledged to pass sharia-based bylaws, place restrictions on places of worship or ban "deviant" religious sects in exchange for votes.

Police, military links

Many of the actions by groups such as the FPI, while clearly illegal, are condoned by the authorities who seem to be either unwilling to act against or complicit with the group's campaigns.

The FPI was founded in Rizieq Shihab in 1998 and had links with the then commander of the Jakarta police. It was initially set up along with other military-backed Muslim vigilantes groups to counter student demonstrations following former President Suharto's overthrow. The group later went on to adopt a conservative religious ideological platform and was best known for vandalising Jakarta nightspots. There have been numerous allegations that this is simply a camouflage to extort money from gambling and prostitution and the FPI reportedly only hits establishments that skip payments to local police.

Timur Pradopo, in addition to being implicated in past human rights abuses, is reportedly a founding member of the FPI. In August last year, Jakarta Governor Fauzi Bowo and Pradopo -– then Jakarta police chief – attended the FPI's 12th anniversary celebrations at the organisation's headquarters. Bowo and Pradopo made their attendance a day after the FPI offered its services to enforce a city bylaw banning some entertainment establishments from operating during the Muslim fasting month. Pradopo said at the time he would embrace the FPI to ensure security in the capital.

Links with the TNI go back to 1965 when Suharto and the military seized power with Islamic groups employed in the slaughter of an estimated 1 million communists and left-wing sympathisers. In 1999 the military supplied and transported jihadist recruits to Ambon in Maluku and Poso in Central Sulawesi, escalating a sectarian conflict between Christians and Muslims that cost tens of thousands of lives. Shihab is reported to have said in a 2008 interview that three army generals had helped found the FPI.

These links were confirmed in June when an FPI mob broke up a meeting in Banyuwangi, East Java, attended by lawmakers overseeing health affairs. The FPI claimed it was a reunion of former members of the banned Indonesian Communist Party. Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle lawmaker Kusuma Sundari accused the security forces of secretly supporting Islamist vigilantes as a kind of paramilitary force to intimidate opponents and commercial rivals, claiming the group was "part of the conflict management strategy the TNI exercises to maintain its power". She also asserted that police are reluctant to get tough with the FPI because of its ties to the TNI. "There is information saying the FPI is a pet of the TNI, and the police are hesitant to deal face-to-face with the military, because police consider the armed forces their elder brother", Sundari told the Jakarta Post.

Although the TNI initially denied the allegations, on July 2 FPI deputy secretary general Awit Mashuri told TVOne channel that the FPI had always "coordinated" with the state apparatus before it took actions, dismissing claims that it takes the law into its own hands. "The information that ex '65 [communists] people were gathering came from district military intelligent unit", Mashuri said referring to the Banyuwangi meeting.

Dangerous alliance

The government's backing for these groups in return for short-term political gains could well backfire, with security analysts warning of a growing alliance between hard-line Muslim groups and fundamentalists with terrorist links.

At a discussion in Jakarta on March 2, Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group said organisations like Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) led by firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, which has links to convicted terrorists and whose goal is the establishment of an Islamic state, and Mujahidin Kompak, which has been linked to the violence in Ambon and Poso, usually did not see eye to eye with groups like the FPI and FUI, which Jones described as "moralist thugs" with a more "local agenda".

Jones said there now appeared to be a merging of extremist agendas against "deviant" Muslim sects such Ahmadiyah, and so-called Christianisation. The success of the moral conservatives in pushing for shariah-inspired bylaws and regulations such as the anti-pornography law and the anti-Ahmadiyah decree had led the two factions to cooperate.

"The [fundamentalists] are using less militant groups as a source of potential recruits", terrorism analyst Noor Huda Ismail told the discussion. "The FPI and FUI are using JAT's vast international connections for funding", adding that the issues of Ahmadiyah and Christianisation are being politicised to bring the two factions together. "These groups would not normally form a coalition because of the huge ideological and tactical differences between them, but these issues are glue that binds them together", she said.

These warnings proved all too prophetic in the wake of a series of 'book bombs' that started in Jakarta on March 15 and have spread several cities around the country. The first device was sent to moderate Islamic scholar and pluralism activist Ulil Abshar Abdalla, who has received death threats from radical groups since 2001. The second and third bombs were sent to National Narcotics Agency chief General Gories Mere and Pancasila Youth chairperson Yapto Soelistyo Soerjosomarno. Gories is known as a Catholic activist while Yapto is half Jewish and the leader of an organisation whose members are mostly engaged in protection rackets. The bombs did not go off as planned with Abdalla's package exploding and injuring a police officer attempting to defuse it.

"Existing terrorist groups have long kept other main targets on their list aside from government officials and Westerners, like liberal Muslim activists, Christian activists and Jewish people", University of Indonesia terrorism analyst Mardigu Wowiek Prasantyo told the Jakarta Globe on March 16.

Human rights NGO Kontras said the bombing campaign marked a new peak in the spate of violence against those fighting for a pluralist society and that it was a threat to the country's principles of plurality and democracy. "Whoever carried out the attack wants to muddy the water and take advantage of the situation", Kontras coordinator Haris Azhar said in a statement.

According to a March 22 report by Al Jazeera, "senior retired generals" are supporting the FPI and other hard-line groups to incite religious violence and overthrow the government. "The generals are using the groups in their efforts to topple President Yudhoyono because they feel he is too weak and too reformist", said the report. While acknowledging that such claims are not new, the report said, "This can now be confirmed for the first time... This revelation shows that behind religious violence, a dangerous political power play is happening".

Al Jazeera quoted Islamic Reform Movement leader Chep Hernawan who said he was approached by a retired three-star general in January. Hernawan alleged the generals are fed up with the president's lies and have previously attempted to use a number of issues, including corruption, to foment a backlash against the president, but failed. "Now they are using the Ahmadiyah issue and it works", he said.

Retired army chief of staff General Tyasno Sudarto, who in 1999 was the head of military intelligence and allegedly involved in a counterfeit money operation to finance pro-Indonesian militias in East Timor, told Al Jazeera that the aim of his support for these groups was to topple Yudhoyono in a "revolution". "We work together to enlighten each other. Our angle is different. They fight in the name of Islam, we use national politics but we have a common goal, which is change. We want to save our country, not destroy it".

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